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“What will the missile do to my mother’s lap?”: A journal from Gaza under the bombs

We do not want to fight and we do not love death. We don’t like the smell of blood but this is what the world has imposed on us. We will leave our thoughts behind with friends, everything we wrote and all the wishes which came out of our hearts and which remained stuck in conversations.

My name is Issam Hany Hajjaj and I’m from Palestine. I was born in the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza. I am 27 years old. I studied English literature and I’ve been writing poetry since 2014. I worked with children as a creative writing coach in the Gaza strip. I also work as a coordinator on the “Al Mujawara” project with educator Mounir Fasheh since 2020. This project is an alternative educational medium to universities and schools that try to propagate poisons through plastic curricula in Palestine and beyond. I’ve lived through 6 wars in the Gaza strip. The Israeli occupation has killed many friends and relatives, because we are defending our right to life, a right that the occupation has taken away. 

I write so that the world knows how just the Palestinian cause is, so it learns about the crimes and massacres that the occupation has been committing for 75 years. That we are being deprived of the simplest of rights to life and security. That I cannot travel and talk about my just cause. I can only do so with my words. I write so the world learns our true story, that the occupation is distorting our image in the eyes of the world. That we have the right to defend ourselves. 

I write behind the glass window overlooking the garden of our house, which is full of dates that fell on the ground. My grandfather planted this palm tree many years ago. He died two years ago at the age of 80. He was older than the occupation. I wanted to say that my morning resembles the jasmine tree that covers the house, but the sounds ensure that all feelings are taken away from you. They inject fear into your heart. The sounds of children rushing toward their mother’s embrace, thinking that her lap is wide enough to protect them from the occupation’s fighter jets. But if rocks get pulverized, what will the missile do to my mother’s lap? 

I love writing and I feel that I own the world when I’m writing. I have a poetry collection that is yet to be published. I’m also currently writing a short book on the Palestinian narrative and how to export it without distortion. If I had to introduce myself in one word, it would be “contemplator”. I contemplate the past to build a new understanding of the present, to participate in the production of meaning. My friend Mounir Fasheh and I work with small groups around the world to officially introduce “Al Mujawara” in universities and schools. The Beirzit University has officially accepted to adopt “Al Mujawara” as a part of its courses as a first step. At “Al Mujawara”, we work to emancipate thinking, not on freedom of thought. We also work on appreciating and better knowing ourselves through wisdom. 

I dream that my story reaches the world. I am currently encircled in Gaza, in the Zeitoun neighborhood, with my family and my aunt’s family after we evacuated our house in Shejaiya.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

News threatens the entire strip with airstrikes, followed by the beginning of random, merciless bombings by the occupation with no prior warning. The occupation comes out and tells the world that they warn civilians before bombing their houses, that everything that gets bombed belongs to the resistance. But the majority of those who died are women and children. They were inside their homes and their only sin is being Palestinian. Today, you will be killed in front of the world because you defend yourself. 

During the day, the situation is relatively calm but it gets heated suddenly. At night, however, when the lights of the city go out against our will, the roads light up with explosions and the flames rise from them. There are barely 5 to 10 minutes separating two explosions. Try to imagine the sound of an explosion one hundred times louder than it sounds during the day, while bodies that are not moving receive death from everywhere. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Some lived and some left and they left memories. Another day and more savagery. The Israeli army is sending messages to Palestinians in Gaza saying they have to go to known shelters. It tells the world they are treating them humanely. But what not everyone knows is that there are no shelters in Gaza. This pushes people to seek safety at the UNRWA schools, which also get bombed. The army orders people to move to the center of the Gaza strip at 4p.m., and during the night the bombing starts in the center of the strip. And during the night they order them to leave their homes and go on to bomb the center of the strip again. What is this madness? What is this terror that the occupation is trying to inject in the hearts of children and their mothers? 

Monday, 9 October, 2023

A weird smell. I feel like my lungs are going to explode at any moment. Unusual pain all over my body. This means that we are being bombed with white phosphorus, an internationally prohibited weapon. The Israeli army again tells the residents of the strip to leave for Egypt, and at the same time bombs the Rafah crossing. No water, no electricity, no internet while the city center where everyone’s interests are located has been completely destroyed; All aid has been halted as the world stands silent, watching the genocide. 

From here, we tell the world: You do not know that this is our right to defend ourselves, no matter how hard you try to distort the Palestinians’ image in this world. It is our right since the Zionist occupation started killing us and displacing us and stealing our lands in 1948. World leaders know this. They also have a hand in this occupation. Some know what is happening, others, the majority, are kept in the dark and do not know the reality of the matter, but this does not negate the fact that we have a right to defend ourselves, whatever happens. 

My grandfather who planted the palm trees in front of our house before he died always refused to leave the house during each aggression on Gaza. We will not forcefully leave either. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

It is 10 p.m. and I’m lying on the floor with my brother near the stairs of the house. The door in front of us is slightly open to let the air in, so we can feel our souls a little. 10 p.m. means that the bombing’s frequency has started to increase and the sounds are now louder than they have been during the day. We also hear screaming far away. It could be the voice of a civilian whose house was bombed, or the voices of people fleeing their homes to the street or to another home which may be bombed later too. 

I think while quietly mumbling. How can the world understand the meaning of aggression if they never lived through it? I remember a friend during the 2014 aggression. A foreign delegation came to Gaza and friends talked to them about the savagery of the sounds we were hearing and the ugliness of killing and blood. But they could not imagine it. When my friend mentioned her fear of going inside the bathroom during the war, and being afraid that her cat would die due to bombing, that is when the delegation started to understand the brutality of aggression. They, too, have standards for death and suffering. 

I have been trying to save money for 8 months, to travel and finish my Masters degree, to try and build a better future for me and my family. I could only save 500 dollars during those months. And in one day, everything was turned upside down. My dream of traveling and studying has been replaced with what resembles the agony of death. My only concern now is to survive this aggression. I started spending my studies savings, the dream seems to be evaporating in front of my eyes. 

This world is savage despite all its laws, because empathy now has special standards you need to master to be able to tell them that in this region of the world, there is a hope we are trying to arm ourselves with, but you are killing that hope. If you want to rename this pain to fit your wishes, you are ridding yourselves of your humanity and following the modern civilization which always tries to put humans into a plastic mold. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

After several attempts to go to sleep and beat the sound of explosions, the blistering cold comes and wakes you up so you don’t miss any bombing. Now there is a new massacre at the Al Karama towers in Gaza, people crying out for ambulances, but the zone is still being bombed. There are reports about charred people that nobody came to rescue, while non-stop bombings, white phosphorus and bunker buster bombs shred our bodies. 

In this moment, amid the cold and the tingles in my chest and as Al Rashid street is being bombed, I remember the sea. I get pain in my chest every winter. I haven’t figured out the reason for it despite several medical examinations. Al Rashid street overlooks the sea, what we call the corniche, the only breathing space for the residents of Gaza, is being ferociously bombed. 

Do you live by the sea? 

The cafe by the corniche where my friends and I gathered for years, and which witnessed our voices and shouts and laughs and cries and complaints, is being bombed. The place where lovers meet secretly, where you first learn to hold your sweetheart’s hand, is being bombed. 

I hear an explosion after every word I write. And while I write I get a message from my friend Muhammad, from Nuseirat. He says that four houses surrounding mine are threatened with bombing, that the entire neighborhood fled. There is death and fleeing at every moment. And our friend is asking herself: who transformed schools into shelters? 

Schools, despite their educational purpose, especially the UNRWA schools where residents take shelter, are another facet of the epistemic occupation and segregation. They are teaching poison in their curricula and preventing students from supporting the Palestinian cause in any way. Military dominance is not enough for the occupier, he also tries to dominate minds until the Palestinian ethnicity is erased from existence. 

74 years of occupation. I was born in 1996 and I didn’t fall into the trap of epistemic occupation. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

October 10, my mother’s birthday. Since we fled our house in the Shejaiya neighborhood, she has been sitting on a chair. And on her birthday she said: “if every mother hides her child, who will defend the land?”.  

Her words remind me that she used to tell us all the time: “Make ablution before you leave the house. You never know what might happen to you”. My mother surrendered her fate to God a long time ago, and this explains my mental strength in facing all of this. I can’t deny that the situation is catastrophic, death is everywhere, cries fill the city. All of these are facts I see and hear. There is also a statement from the Health ministry saying: “There is a shortage of body bags”. This is not a problem, Arab countries will send more bags. 

My cousin is trying to break the gloom of death with a birthday cake, while respecting the sanctity of death. What I fear is that the cake will be decorated with ashes – They assassinate life but we love life and resist death. My mother, however, exchanged the birthday cake with her instruction: “If every mother hides her child, who will defend the land?”. 

We are facing a genocide with the world watching and all I have to say is that the ghost of guilt will haunt you while we are hosted by God. 

Saturday, October 14, 2023

We are now at my aunt’s house, where we fled from the aggression of Gaza. At every moment, we hear the cries of women and children in the streets, like a monster coming from afar to bite our souls. 

It is 4 p.m. and the army called the family next door ordering them to evacuate the house. After several anxious hours, it was not bombed. It is a trap, a psychological war. They make the families leave their homes at night and plant fear into their hearts to make them hate this land and leave it forever. 

The time now is 8 p.m.. We pray Al Isha in a group prayer. We hear the sound of children and women screaming in the street. My cousin opened the door and quickly came back in. I finished my prayer and looked to my left. Dozens of children, the sound of their cries is heartbreaking. One girl was crying bitterly. When we naively asked about the reason, she said that she lost her shoe on the street while she was running from death. She wants to go back and get it. This is when I cried. How on earth can we tell a little girl that what’s happening is bigger than a shoe that fell to the ground, that we cannot just go out and grab it for her? How can we tell her that we can buy her new shoes but we can’t buy another girl like her? How do we explain to her how the world let us down and left us to die? 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

As fate would have it, I once met one of the fighters who were besieged at the Church of Nativity in 2002. This man deeply understands the situation. I rarely heard anyone speak like him. He understands what happens around him and fully realizes how the Arab regimes let us down; After the church siege, Israel came to the solution of expelling everyone that was inside to European countries. But Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) refused. There were a lot of people there. Around 100 of them were expelled. The scenes were bloody. The bodies of martyrs filled the yard of the church. They ate tree leaves and did not drink water for days. 

We tried to sleep a little and rest our bodies in case we had to flee again. We sleep to the sound of shelling and wake up to it too. Moments after Al Fajr prayer before dawn, the young man and his family left the house. The little girl ran to the street to look for the shoe that she lost last night while fleeing. 

The Israeli army, through news broadcasts, is ordering the residents in the north of the Gaza strip, 1.1 million Palestinians, to head south. What’s worrying is that the United Nations, through text messages, told its employees and those of the Red Crescent to leave the northern part of the strip and head south too. Nobody is clarifying anything, nobody knows if it is just psychological warfare. But there is a 24 hour window to leave. 

People are afraid. They don’t want to believe that what is happening is just intimidation. But we have lived through this catastrophe before. And here lies the fear. When the internal front asked residents not to leave Shejaiya in 2014, we witnessed the worst massacres. Pain taught us a lesson. 

We have been living the masquerade of deportation in front of the world’s eyes since 1948. The world conspires against us and wants to take its revenge on us. Why this denial of the Arab and global reaction? 

God do I miss Muthaffar al-Nawab. I miss his loud, bad meaning words because they satisfy something inside me. Maybe they ease my anger. 

Regimes are corrupt. Populations are bare now. But they are capable of flipping the situation. History is not that important when God asks you: “What did you do?”. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

The vortex of fleeing follows us to a new place every day; As Amer Hlehel said in the “Taha” monodrama about Palestinians fleeing in 1948: “We eat and we drink and we sleep but we do not want to eat and drink and sleep, we want to go back”. Taha went back from Lebanon to Palestine even if the price was death. 

After the Israeli army told residents in the north to flee south, beyond Wadi Gaza, things became tense yesterday and people left their houses. We left with them too, as they told us. And on the road, they bombed us. Over 100 people were killed on one walking path, while people fled death toward God’s will. 

We reached a house in the south with our hearts filled with indescribable anger and anguish; We sat on spongious seats. Moments later, I said loudly: “I’ve had it up to her (pointing to my nose), I’ll go back home tomorrow”. My mother said: “In 1948, those who stayed and didn’t leave are still there. Their goal was to terrorize them”. 

In the morning, we went back home. We are now trying to get hold of a liter of fuel for the power generator in order to pump water and charge the batteries to communicate with the world and know what’s going on around us. The station’s owner told us in cold blood: “I was ordered not to sell fuel”. We went back to the house in Zeitoun. My aunt’s house is near Shejaiya. We may be cut off from the world definitely this time. But we will not leave the house. We either die here, or survive. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

I am not afraid of dying. And if the missile has to come, it better be very strong and not leave anything of me. Life is very tight and fear eats you up if you let it live inside you. It runs in your blood like poison. 

We do not want to fight and we do not love death. We don’t like the smell of blood but this is what the world has imposed on us. We will leave our thoughts behind with friends, everything we wrote and all the wishes which came out of our hearts and which remained stuck in conversations. 

Those who will survive have to fully understand that the Western world and many in the Arab world do not really know what is happening to us and do not comprehend the events correctly. 

I therefore invite you to work toward decolonizing our Arab minds and wipe the dust away. I urge you to understand the epistemic occupation and how they play with words. One word misrepresenting one idea might reach populations with concepts that blow our rights away. 

Countries that boast about freedom of opinion and expression are the first to prevent their peoples from supporting Gaza and Palestine. They know very well that their leaders are the reason this is happening to us, because they planted Israel in the Middle East. 

We witnessed a lot of death and there is no place for fear anymore, but we are afraid to feel life. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023 (2)

This stubbornness is killing them. It triggers them and pushes them toward madness. How can a people love their country to death? How can they give up on their lives in order to say “no” to injustice? 

Talks have been going on for days about a humanitarian ceasefire to let food and medical aid into the strip. And every time people hope that the Rafah crossing will be opened, the occupation violently bombs it and all the streets leading to it. There is a shortage in medical supplies and the occupation is ordering hospitals to be evacuated too. Everything that is happening proves that the occupation wants to humiliate the Palestinian people. Where do hospitals go? Where can patients and injured people go? What catastrophe will be brought upon us if we do? We’re already under a fascist attack. 

The health ministry opened mass graves yesterday. The dead are being buried without identification. Their relatives are under the rubble and nobody can identify them, because they are just body parts. We are nearing an environmental catastrophe and the spread of diseases. 75 people were buried in the first mass grave, 35 in the second. All those who died were innocent. We are innocent. The Palestinian people are facing genocide; 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

My friend says that October is the month of falling in love. The weather goes from extreme heat to cool breeze. And when we go out in the evenings to see friends, we take with us something heavy to keep warm. Those who forget to bring something can hide behind their friends’ shoulders until they go back home and hide behind walls. 

Last night was very tough. The occupation army transformed October from the month of falling in love to the month of killing friends. Yesterday, at 7 p.m., the occupation bombed the Anglican hospital in Gaza, killing over 500 people and injuring thousands. My friend Muhammad Qriqa was among the dead. He was a tall, handsome young man. His paintings showcased the brutality of occupation. Muhammad left his home in Shejaiya to seek shelter at the Anglican hospital and protect himself from bombings. He left all his paintings at home. He left his soul there and fled. He did not know that death was waiting for him. 

The occupation is denying the massacre it committed and saying “Hamas” did it. But the amount of destruction at the hospital is clear and proves that they committed it. Nobody can do that but them. 

Dignity dried up in the world as it watched what happened. Arabness and humanity dried up from the hearts of people. Even the presence of human rights organizations became useless, as the Palestinian is not a human in their eyes. 

Now, young people are falling in love in Paris, Berlin and Barcelona. Muhammad had not been to any of these cities. He was at the Anglican hospital to tell the world: My paintings are a witness that October is the month of death.